During the general election exactly one year ago, the Workers’ Party made history by being the first opposition party to win a group representation constituency (GRC).
With little information from their predecessors about the running of the Aljunied GRC, the five WP members elected to Parliament that day quickly had to get up to speed.
Aljunied Member of Parliament (MP) Pritam Singh described the early challenges they faced and shared his thoughts on how things have changed since.
“Becoming an opposition MP is like finding yourself in the deep end of the pool — you simply have to swim, and quickly come up to speed in dealing and resolving issues faced by the residents,” he told Yahoo! Singapore.
The key challenges at that time were taking over the Town Council and ensuring that the provision of municipal services continued uninterrupted, he noted.
The youngest of the pioneering five-member team, the 35-year-old says being an MP has been in many ways more than what he expected.
“If someone told me that I would have an opportunity at public service through politics at the age of 35, I would have been humbled,” he said. “I remain humbled and never forget what an important responsibility being an MP entails.”
Asked if it has been hectic balancing his postgraduate law studies at the Singapore Management University with his MP duties, he said he was heavily involved in party work while studying, even before last year’s election, so it felt more like a “continuum”.
“My partner and family are pillars of support and I derive much energy from their confidence in me, as I have done before. So on many levels, nothing has changed,” he added.
On what he’s been up to in the past year in Eunos, his ward, Pritam said he focused on reaching out to the older residents, leading monthly walking sessions and one-day family tours. In June, he intends to have a round of health screening for residents aged above 50.
He said that he has also taken an interest in seeing that a number of upgrading projects announced by previous incumbents are carried through, and that, given that two MRT stations are being built around the ward, repair and rectification works, including painting, for around a third of the flats in Eunos be done over the next two years.
Adding that he encourages honest feedback and criticism from his residents, he said he seeks to establish a special relationship with his residents wherein they are treated like family.
“This approach keeps our feet firmly planted on the ground,” he said.
On sitting in Parliament, he said most memorable debate thus far for him has been the one about the $1.1 billion Bus Services Enhancement Fund.
“The government’s proposal did cause many raised eyebrows from the man on the street,” he said, speaking of the debate. “From the feedback I received, I feel this debate has led to more genuine queries about the nature and dynamics of politics and governance in Singapore, and that is a good thing.”
He noted, however, that the million-dollar question on how Singapore’s political landscape could transform in the course of the coming year can only be answered fully by the People’s Action Party (PAP).
“In my view, there is a clear demand from the electorate for greater transparency, accountability and participation in policy-making. Any transformation will require significant changes in the way the PAP deals with this,” he said.
Some of Pritam’s fellow WP MPs acknowledged how their party has been a pioneer in Singapore politics in a way but were quick to say their focus was on serving their constituents.
WP chairman Sylvia Lim, who made history last year by becoming the first elected female opposition MP since Singapore’s independence, told Yahoo! Singapore that she was sure she would not be the last such woman.
“Politics and policymaking has much to gain from diverse representation. Parliament is a representation of society, and should never be monolithic,” she added.
As a full-fledged MP now, as compared to her time spent as an non-constituency MP before the previous election, Lim said she has been focusing on constituency and town council work after she resigned from her teaching post at Temasek Polytechnic last year.
Fellow first-time MP Chen Show Mao, who was widely viewed as the opposition party’s trump card in last year’s election, emphasised that he works in tandem with the other members of his team, which includes party chief Low Thia Khiang and Muhamad Faisal bin Abdul Manap.
“We are a team — we stood for election and now serve our constituents in Aljunied as a team,” he said.
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